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A classical Christmas

At Christmastide, I like to share one of my traditions, which is a reading of a selection from John Milton’s “Hymn on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” As a classical Christian – I know, an oxymoron – I’m always struck by how the advent of Christianity sounded a death knell for Greco-Roman culture. But then, someone’s sunrise is always someone else’s sunset.

Yet Greco-Roman culture – with its sensual tales of gods and heroes, its dramas on the terrible wonder of the human condition, its emphasis on the body in all its brutal beauty – never died. (It’s a theme of Gore Vidal’s 1964 novel “Julian,” about the post-Christian Roman emperor who attempted to reinstall the Greco-Roman pantheon.) The Greeks would instead resurface in the Renaissance and at the turn of the 19th century. ...

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Vladdie and The Donald: A fine bromance

As a writer of homoerotic fiction, I consider myself a collector and connoisseur of male/male romances. I began with the ancient Greeks, who practically invented homoerotic relationships – all those youths beloved by Apollo, whose depiction reached an apotheosis in the paintings of neoclassical Paris (see Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s provocative book “Male Trouble”); and the relationships of Alexander the Great with his right-hand man, Hephaestion, and eunuch Bagoas, portrayed so movingly in Mary Renault’s “Fire From Heaven” and “The Persian Boy,” respectively.

Then there’s Marguerite Yourcenar’s “Memoirs of Hadrian,” a model for all aspiring historical fiction writers, which tells the story of the titular Greek-loving Roman emperor and his love for the tragic Greek youth Antinous.

Moving on to our own (mostly) gay-friendly, postfeminist time, there’s Gus Van Sant’s ingenious “My Own Private Idaho,” based on “Henry IV,” and Annie Proulx’s hauntingly spare novella “Brokeback Mountain,” made into an equally worthy film by Ang Lee. ...

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My big fat Greek odyssey, Part V: Power and death in Vergina

With the recent death of Fidel Castro – and the return of “The Hollow Crown” series to PBS, based on Shakespeare’s Henry and Richard histories – my thoughts turn to Vergina, the highlight of My Big Fat Greek Odyssey and a place were leaders were made and unmade.

It was here in the ancient capital of Aigai that Philip II was assassinated on his daughter Cleopatra’s wedding day in a kind of “Godfather” moment. It was here that his son and Cleopatra’s full brother, Alexander, became king. And it was here that the ancient burial mounds of kings of Macedon were unearthed by archaeologist Manolis Andronokis in 1977.

Today, a museum sits on the site, with another coming. We arrived on a rainy morning and were immediately delivered into a world that is overwhelming. This is a dark space that throws the treasures it protects into dramatic relief. Crowns of gold leaves. ...

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Free to be you, me – and someone else

Culture vulture that I am, I somehow missed the cultural appropriation wars that have erupted. That’s what you get for going on vacation and unplugging.

First, novelist Lionel Shriver apparently set off a firestorm at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival with a defense of artists using other people’s races, ethnicities, sexualities, etc. in their creations. Then Claudio Gatti outed the comfortable Roman translator Anita Raja as the author of the pseudonymous Elena Ferrante novels about the friendship between two poor Neapolitan girls. 

Meanwhile, Bristol University cancelled a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida,” because students protested white people playing Egyptians and Ethiopians. ...

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